Why do people feed wildlife?
Providing food for wild animals can get an you an up close, intimate viewing experience that might not be possible under normal conditions. For some it allows them to connect with nature and develop an appreciation for wildlife. People may speak of developing "meaningful relationships" with the animals--but does this come at a cost? It can be dangerous to feed wildlife--for that animal and sometimes for people as well.
Many folks don't realize that feeding deer in particular can have unintended consequences. Negative effects can manifest themselves in several ways. Human residences are often within close proximity to one other and are connected by busy roads that have vehicle traffic. Deer will accumulate in high densities next to these locations and form routine movement patterns based on the feeding stations. The animals being fed can lose fear of people which makes them more susceptible to hunting pressures. They may additionally become accustomed to unnatural and potentially unhealthy food sources (popular example: corn). Feeding stations may also inadvertently spread pathogens and aid in the proliferation of diseases such as brain worm. Collisions of vehicles with fed deer in particular are very dangerous to people, to the deer, and to the scavengers who feed on their carcass next to the busy road. I live in northern Minnesota and have had two notable deer collisions within the lat year. In certain instances there is nothing the vehicle operator can do to avoid the animal.
For the past several years I have been working on telling this story. Whenever I have a safe opportunity to remove a road kill carcass (deer or other species) from the roadway or roadside ditch--I do. The smell and sight of the carcass will lure many scavenger species to the roadside, exposing those animals to the same fate. By moving the carcass and placing a camera on it, I have been able to document what sorts of animals are at risk. While I do not condone baiting for wildlife photography, to tell this story I have made an exception (it is a local, natural food source that would attract these scavengers anyways). When I move the carcass I make sure to call a local conservation officer and obtain a permit. It helps environmental law enforcement keep track of the deceased animal mostly for population information and to prevent inadvertent disease transmission.
What can you do to help wildlife?
Many landowners want to get involved with providing habitat and/or food resources for backyard wildlife. There are ways to both get an up close viewing experience while at the same time creating an ecological service. Success depends on the species you are targeting and doing your research. An example of a good practice may be planting native wildflowers in your yard to provide valuable habitat for pollinators (especially honey bees) that are in decline throughout the country. A popular strategy is to pick a practice that will provide the most service for the greatest number of species. Most backyard birds are another popular group of animal that can be fed with seeds, berries, and a variety of store bought foods that closely mimic or supplement their natural diet without causing unintended harm.
--Monitor your yard to see what wildlife are currently using your property (trail cameras are a wonderful resource)
--Building Nest Boxes (Bats, Wood Ducks, Songbird houses, etc)
--Planting native trees and shrubs
--Planting native wildflowers